S.Korea's live-fire drill on disputed border despite warnings

South Korea held live firing drills in a disputed area on Monday despite warnings from Pyongyang.

S.Korea's live-fire drill on disputed border despite warnings

South Korea held live firing drills in a disputed area on Monday despite warnings from Pyongyang after an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting failed to agree on how to defuse the crisis.

South Korea's military confirmed the drill, delayed from the weekend by bad weather, had begun at 0530 GMT. There was near constant artillery fire, some near and some distant, which shook air raid bunkers on the island of Yeonpyeong.

"I can't exactly tell how many have been fired, some are distant and some are noisy. The bunker is shaking and people here are worried, including myself," said a Reuters witness.

There was no incoming fire.

"Warnings"

On Nov. 23, Seoul conducted firing drills from Yeonpyeong close to the disputed maritime border off the west coast of the peninsula. Pyongyang retaliated by shelling the island, killing two civilians and two marines in the worst attack on South Korean territory since the Korean war ended in 1953.

North Korea warned last week that it would strike even harder if the latest drills went ahead. China and Russia have cautioned Seoul against holding the exercise, while the United States has backed South Korea to hold the drills.

"Let me reiterate very strong concern of the Russian Federation that within hours there may be a serious aggravation of tension, a serious conflict for that matter," said Russia's U.N. Ambassador, Vitaly Churkin. "It's better to refrain from doing this exercise at this point in time."

Wang Min, China's representative at the Security Council meeting, warned that "the situation on the Korean peninsula is perilous" and defended Beijing's approach to the crisis.

"If a bloody clash breaks out on the Korean peninsula, that would first of all hurt the people on both sides of the peninsula and bring a national tragedy of mutual fratricide between the compatriots in the North and South," Wang told the Security Council, according to Xinhua.

"US deal with North"

U.S. diplomatic troubleshooter Bill Richardson, visiting Pyongyang, won agreement from North Korea to allow U.N. nuclear inspectors to return, according to CNN which has a team travelling with him.

Pyongyang "agreed to allow International Atomic Energy Agency personnel to return to a nuclear facility in the country and agreed to negotiate the sale of 12,000 ... fuel rods and ship them to an outside country, presumably to South Korea", CNN said, quoting correspondent Wolf Blitzer in Pyongyang.

"The North has also agreed to consider Richardson's proposal for a military commission between the United States, North Korea and South Korea as well as a separate hotline for the Koreas' militaries."

The South Korean Foreign Ministry said it could not confirm the agreement.

"We do not have the specific details yet, so it is too early to make an official evaluation," a spokesman said.

Richardson was visiting in an unofficial capacity, the traditional means of communication between the two sides.

North Korea expelled inspectors in April 2009.

"Fears of escalation"

Both sides have said they will use force to defend what they say is their territory off the west coast, raising international concern that the standoff could quickly spiral out of control.

Yonhap quoted military officials as saying shells fired in the drill would land more than 10 km (6 miles) from the maritime border. But Pyongyang disputes the border and said last week that it would be a suicidal provocation for Seoul to hold the exercise.

"The South Korean puppet warmongers going in league with outside forces are getting ever more frantic in their moves for a war of aggression... pushing the situation to the brink of a war," North Korea's Rodong Sinmun newspaper said on Monday.

Russia had called Sunday's emergency Security Council meeting to try to prevent an escalation, but major powers failed to agree on a draft statement due to differences.

"The gaps that remain are unlikely to be bridged," said Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

Other council diplomats, however, said it was possible the council could return to the issue as early as Monday.



Agencies

Last Mod: 20 Aralık 2010, 09:56
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